2017 Chinese New Year this Saturday, January 28th.
Part of understanding Chinese history and culture is knowing about the traditional Chinese New Year’s celebration. So braking from the history and philosophy, it’s time to discuss 2017 as the year of the Rooster. This past Sunday afternoon (January 22), my wife Marie and I joined members of the Chinese community at the Chinese Church on S. National to help make the hundreds of dumplings that will be eaten this Friday night at the Chinese New Year’s celebration at the church here in Springfield. I remember one year in South Florida there were two competing celebrations on Chinese New Year’s about five miles apart. Each had about a thousand attendees… a little different that we’ll find in SW Missouri. Commonly asked questions about Chinese New Year are as follows:
1. Why don’t the Chinese just celebrate New Year on January 1?
Chinese New Year is never on January 1. Attention is focused on the traditional date of the New Year according to China’s lunar calendar. We are celebrating the year 4715 in the Chinese calendar verses 2017…
Chinese New Year falls in the period from January 21 to February 20. The origin of the celebration goes back thousands of years to a time when people would clean out the old and prepare for the coming of spring. Newborn children from the previous year would not be given a name until the celebration because so many did not make it until this time. Newborns were initially given a totem that identified with an animal… A tiger, boar (pig), snake, rooster, ox, monkey, horse, dog, rabbit, goat, rat, and dragon. This animal was to be their protector. They were given by the shaman or holy man at the time of the child’s birth. The twelve totems corresponded to the twelve months of the years. Each lunar year is related to one of the above zodiac animals beginning at Chinese New Year. The 12 zodiac animals would then recur on a 12-year cycle. For example, 2017 is a year of the rooster, as was 2005… The holiday time was chosen as a time for people to get together for four principle reasons. First, the official naming of the newborn, the pairing of young couples in marriage, to honor those who have died over the previous year in a ceremony called ancestor worship they still have to this day (similar to Memorial Day in USA), and third, to pray for the next year of farming so they would have enough to eat during the next winter, and the well-being of everyone.
2. Why does the date for Chinese New Year change every year?
China’s lunar calendar is according to the moon so the New Year always starts with a new moon. Second, it is according to the sun. Chinese New Year is always 1 to 2 months after China’s shortest day of the year (the winter solstice, December 21 or 22). (Like Easter’s varying date, on the Sunday after the full moon after the March equinox, Chinese New Year is on the second new moon before the March equinox, or the second new moon after the December solstice.) So the Chinese lunar date is always 21–51 days behind the corresponding Gregorian (international) calendar date… except when they add a month. The Year of the Rooster starts from Jan. 28, 2017 (Chinese New Year) and lasts to Feb. 15, 2018.
3. Why do the Chinese call Chinese New Year ‘Spring Festival’?
Chinese New Year always falls within half a month of ‘Start of Spring’ (beginning February 4), the first of the 24 solar terms of China’s traditional solar calendar. As ‘Start of Spring’ begins the ‘farming calendar’ it is logical that New Year should be celebrated then, with a “spring” festival. This practice of knowing when to plant, is very similar to what is used in what we know as the Old Farmer’s Almanac. ‘Start of Spring’ is an oddly named solar term, because spring is still a month or more away in China’s cold north, and wintry weather still lingers in temperate south China. However, Chinese still celebrate the coming spring with the Spring Festival. To distinguish between “international” New Year (January 1) and Chinese New Year, instead of using ‘New Year’ (新年, usually meaning Chinese New Year in China), Chinese call January 1 ‘first dawn’ (元旦) and Chinese New Year ‘Spring Festival’ (春节).
4. Why do the Chinese eat dumplings on New Year’s Eve?
Making dumplings Dumplings are a traditional Chinese New Year food, especially in North China. As they are the shape of old silver and gold ingots (an old form of currency), Chinese believe that eating dumplings will bring prosperity in the coming year. A similar tradition here when we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day and watching football.
5. Why do the Chinese set off so many Firecrackers?
For the right vibrations… Chinese New Year is a happy festival, so for Chinese people lots of noise is a must to heighten the festival atmosphere, and firecrackers (and fireworks) are the cultural way to do it. In ancient times, it was believed that the explosive sound of firecrackers scared away evil spirits who might otherwise bring bad luck. In modern China, people set off firecrackers and fireworks during festivals to express their happiness and invite good luck (all firecrackers are the lucky color red). Traditionally, firecrackers are set to ward off evil spirits at the time of what is known as the Lantern Festival which signaled the end of the festivities. Millions of Chinese travel by train to travel home during this time. Thousands of additional train cars are put in use during this time. It is not the time for the casual traveler to try to travel in China. I know… Trains are standing room only. You can purchase a “standing” ticket and travel for hours on the train standing in the aisles.
6. Why do the Chinese hand out Red Envelopes at Chinese New Year?
For luck: In Chinese culture, red is a lucky color, so giving money in a red envelope is a way of giving best wishes, as well as a financial present. It’s like sending a greetings card with money inside. Red envelope money is called “lucky money”, though it’s really the red envelope that’s lucky. Chinese New Year, like Christmas, is “the season of good will” in China, so most people receive a red envelope from someone, whether employer or family. There are lots of customs about who gives who how much in a red envelope.
7. Why do Chinese do Dragon and Lion Dances at Chinese New Year?
Dragon dances and lion dances are traditional performances for joyous festivals and big occasions to enhance festive atmosphere. It is traditionally believed that performing dragon or lion dances (during the Spring Festival) is a way to pray for good luck and drive away evil spirits.